Laser removal is the most common method used to remove an unwanted tattoo. Complete removal of the tattoo can be difficult due to the penetrating nature of the ink. However, laser tattoo removal can be very successful and has reduced risk of scarring or damage to the skin layers below.
How lasers work
Lasers work by producing bursts of intense light that pass through the top layers of skin to be absorbed by the tattoo pigment being targeted. The energy produced shatters the tattoo ink into tiny pieces that are then carried away by the body’s immune system.
There are three different types of lasers for tattoo removal. Each uses different wavelengths to specifically target different colors of tattoo ink. These lasers are also a type that uses special peak energies called Q-switching to shatter the ink and a quick pulse that helps prevent scaring.
- The Q-switched Ruby laser targets blue and green ink and produces the shortest wavelength (694nm).
- The Q-switched Alexandrite Laser targets blue and black ink and produces a longer wavelength (755nm).
- The Q-switched ND: Yag is the newest type and can remove multiple colors of red, oranges, browns and blacks. It produces the longest wavelength (1064nm).
What to expect
Depending on the size and color in your tattoo, the doctor will estimate how many sessions, between 1 and 10 will be needed. Many tattoos can be removed in two to four sessions, four to six weeks apart.
During the session, you will be given protective eyewear to shield your eyes during the procedure. A numbing anesthetic gel may be placed on the skin on and around the tattoo. The laser handpiece will be placed against tattooed area and you will feel the sensation of a rubber band snapping or as if grease were splattering against the skin.
Afterwards, an ice pack will be applied to soothe the area treated. Topical antibiotic ointment or cream will need to be applied as the doctor determines, along with a protective dressing. The area will also need to be protected from sun exposure by using sunblock when outdoors.
Expect to pay $200 to $800 a session for laser tattoo removal indicated the tattoo removal center.
According to WebMD, risks of laser tattoo removal include a slight chance of scarring, possible hypo or hyper-pigmentation to the area, and risk of infection. It is important to follow the post-procedure instructions given.
Overall, laser tattoo removal is safer than older methods of dermabrasion or excision. The results can be quite satisfactory. Tattoos with dark colors such as black and blue have the best results of removal, as those dyes absorb more laser light than lighter color pigments.
Do spend time searching for a dermatologist or cosmetic surgeon experienced in tattoo removal. Get references from people who have used a particular doctor and ask them about their experiences.
To search for a dermatologist go to http://www.aad.org/
To search for a cosmetic surgeon go to http://www.surgery.org/consumers/find-a-plastic-surgeon/
How Tattoo Removal Works. Discovery Fit & Health. Retrieved Mar. 2, 2012.
Tattoo Removal Information Center. Retrieved Mar. 2, 2012.
How Tattoo Removal Lasers Work. Retrieved Mar. 2, 2012.
Laser Tattoo Removal. WebMD. Retrieved Mar. 2, 2012.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues. Other articles by Michele are at www.helium.com/users/487540/show_articles/
Edited by Jody Smith